Interfaith and International Vigil for Peace
I will tell you something about stories.
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have.
All we have to fight off illness and death.
You don’t have anything if you don’t have stories.
Leslie Marmon Sliko
I grew up in a Muslim country, but in our neighbourhood our friends were Baha’is and Zoroastrians and my best friend was Christian while my father’s business partner was a Jewish doctor. I simply remember how fascinated I was with their different rituals, icons at their homes and customs, which never came between us. Our faith traditions had not separated us within our civic life. It was not only the children’s attitude but there was mutual respect between our parents. Later during the Iran-Iraq war, I found myself sitting in a bomb shelter, with our neighbours, whom we later discovered were Iraqi and were defined as our enemies. Although we were separated by nationality, our experience of loss and pain had bound us together.
There was clearly an awareness of that shared space of encounter with the “other” that everyone could feel. But our shared creative engagement with the “other” through prayers, which was encouraged by the media, had made our souls capable of maintaining a healthy self. This paved the pathways that connected the inner world of each of us with the ground of our being, with each other and with the shared ever-present threat of the outer world, war. I have never forgotten those days, praying by name for the safety of our neighbour’s sons and brothers, who were about to harm us fighting in the front line against our men. There was certainly a divine quality in those moments, which prepared us to notice ourselves in the “other” and going even beyond that to love the “other”.
This experience of encounter with “others” and connectedness through prayers is one of the foundations for the interfaith and international Vigil for Peace. I have also had the luxury of sharing part of my life and research, on prayer, peace and media, in an ecumenical environment at OCMS. This has opened my eyes to the worldwide church, and has been the inspiration behind the Vigil for Peace that I am organizing.
Through this vigil, I hope we can recreate the same sense and level of awareness of dignity in our differences, our shared social problems and craft a vision, which can bring us together as human beings capable of love, peace and far from hatred, people who are willing to embrace necessary social changes with respect for one another. My experience was a rare occurrence but now we are living in a transition in the global religious landscape with increasing geographic proximity of religious groups due to historic and forced migration.
People who we used to resonate as “others” no longer live on the other side of the globe but rather in our own neighbourhood, perhaps just next door. This proximity is coupled with some memories and experiences of division, which can hinder social cohesion as we find ourselves forced into living with blurred and ever-changing boundaries. This social cohesion is best constructed at the level of real life and face-to-face relationships. Bringing these relationships before God in a vigil is a moral experience of grace and a prime example of mercy in action. Such activities can lead us towards meaningful dialogue, which can liberate us from our limited self, opening a gate to the realm of others.
I would appreciate your prayers for the Vigil for Peace, as its detailed planning is unfolding everyday. But that has its own story, which will come later.